By: Lesléa Newman
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: September 2004
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: November 2008
“Akitas are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and extreme devotion,” explains Professor Eizaburo Ueno as he proudly introduces his dog Hachi to a young boy in the wonderful pre-teen story Hachiko Waits. Ueno’s words are soon proven true as his dog shows just what extreme devotion is while also becoming an honored hero throughout Japan for his faithfulness.
A work of fiction based on the true story of one dog’s dedication to his master, Hachiko Waits opens with a scene of home life at professor Ueno’s home. The Professor, completely committed to his beautiful young akita, is rewarded by the dog’s love and undying loyalty. Every day Ueno takes the train to work and Hachi happily follows along. When his master boards the train each morning, Hachi goes back home, only to return promptly at 2:55PM, five minutes before his owner steps off the homebound train. Upon seeing Ueno exit the train, Hachi jumps for joy, love and happiness, emanating from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.
When tragedy strikes and the Professor suddenly dies while at work, Hachi is left waiting at the train station, wondering why Ueno is late. Unable to understand why his master has not returned, Hachi waits for ten years at the station, looking eagerly into the faces of all those exiting the trains to see if one might be his beloved owner.
A story about a dog whose master has died could easily become one big sad tale, leaving the reader eager to put the book down. But author Newman has handled the task of recounting the true story in a tender way that brings a tear to the eye, while at the same time creating a warm and happy feeling for the reader. As we follow Hachi’s adventure, it is wonderful to see the joy this one akita brought to so many people who had lost hope in their own lives. Hachiko Waits includes the character of Yasuo, a boy of just five when he meets Hachi for the first time, and who grows older with the dog until the end, when he is a young man in his early twenties. The death of Professor Ueno is gently explained to him (and to young readers) by Yasuo’s parents. Hachi’s passing, too, is handled in a similar fashion.
The author cleverly incorporated elements of Japanese culture into her story, and used numerous terms unfamiliar to most American children. A glossary is included in the back of the book to explain each word. What I particularly enjoyed was that instead of throwing countless terms at the reader, Newman chose a group of key words and used each one numerous times. This guarantees that by the end of the story, readers will know the meaning of each word and not have to use the glossary. The seamless way she wove the vocabulary into the story made it both entertaining and educational.
Quill says: A tender story about one dog’s devotion.